SansBlogue  
Saturday, July 03, 2004
 
Face-time and ministerial formation ::

Two interesting responses to my post about virtual formation appeared very quickly. I’m responding to them in order.
Finker (whose own blog regularly has good thoughts - and now a post on "the F word that I really want to explore more") in his comment to the post below suggests a radical approach, asking if “residential training” is indeed “the best form of training either academically or formatively”. He also wonders if “it is sustainable”.

Both are good questions, the second has been often raised in discussions in the college staff room here. More and more students find it difficult to displace their families for three years or more; their spouses have careers and their children schools… Yet it seems to me less interesting. Time will tell. Perhaps in ten years our Internship program will be full and the onsite Pastoral Leadership program struggling, either way the facts will out and we just need to wait.

But the first challenge is seldom faced. Teachers usually assume that onsite face-to-face must be best. The only sound theological or indeed androgogical argument for this rests on the incarnate/real nature of such a process. Is this dichotomy - onsite=real/incarnate vs. distance=virtual/disembodied - true? Clearly some distance programs are disembodied, just a package of “notes”, and assignments, but equally even our basic BAppTheol by distance includes contact through online discussion, e-mail, telephone and a staff member on the road visiting students, so already the distinction begins to break down. (A few students exist who manage to sit in onsite classes, and jump all the assignment hoops, without ever seeming to really engage with me or even the ideas in the course!)

However, the more interesting comparison is with the Internship option combined with distance teaching that our Christian Ministry Training (CMT) programme aims to offer. (This also seems true of the initiative I mentioned in the **previous post**.) Here the face-to-face component of formation is squarely the responsibility of the local congregation and its leaders.

Rubén Gómez was stressing the importance of this for both onsite and distance programmes. (If I read him right.)
First of all, no matter what route you take, it seems to me that real formation can only take place within the context of a local church.
As a fellow Baptist I have to agree. Real church is a local community of Jesus’ people, anchored in real lives, so that is where real formation takes place. Seminaries are a sort of “virtual church” most of whose members are temporarily members of the community, whose real lives were/are/will be elsewhere. Such virtual churches can not be all (or even the main part) of formation!

Residential training (the model Finker’s college sems to follow), or even onsite training (our Carey model, with students living offsite, but studying onsite) of course provides some real church alongside the virtual. Students do “placements”. See how artificial it sounds!

With Internship, whether the classroom is a real one (onsite) or virtual (distance or online), the formation is conducted primarily in a real local church community of which the candidate is a real (not a virtual) member.

I mentioned that Rubén is a fellow-Baptist, no wonder he stresses the local. But how strange that even Baptist Seminaries - who lost touch with the notion that theological formation is local during the period when communications technologies required central repositories of theological teaching – still think centralized in the age of electronic media!

Rubén closes saying:
One final caveat: my comments will probably make sense only to "Westerners". Unfortunately, most of the world's population cannot take advantage of these trends in education. But they do have churches, you see...
Actually similar issues can arise, in Congo in the 80s there was a scheme they called something like the “Travelling Seminary”. Teachers travelled to students and would meet them in groups where they were, it was just a low-tech way of doing “distance” training… (After all such brief encounters would mean that the bulk of the personal formation would occur in the local church!)


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